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By Michael Calleri

Every now and then, a movie comes along that is so fascinating and surprising that it demands to be seen.

Just such a film is "Cave Of Forgotten Dreams," an inspirational documentary from director Werner Herzog. The movie is about the mysteries of the Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc Cave in southern France, which was discovered in 1994 by a team of cave hunters. The existence of the drawings in the cave, drawings radiocarbon-dated to some 32,000 years ago, has changed human understanding of the beginnings of art and recorded history. It's readily apparent from seeing the depictions of animals and abstract markings that those who walked the planet in the past were very interested in preserving some memory of what they saw.

Very few people, mostly around 400 scientists and scholars, have seen the inside of the cave, because it was immediately, and correctly, determined that opening it up to tourism would quickly destroy the fragile drawings.

Herzog received permission to enter the Chauvet cave for only a few hours with extremely efficient low-light cameras. Seeing the paintings on film firsthand, the footage of which is blended with invaluable lessons in history, art and spirituality from talking heads of various stripes, has resulted in a movie of such astonishing wonder that you may rethink how you react to art, science and religion.

In his narration, Herzog calls the cave drawings "one of the great discoveries in the history of human culture." The cave is nearly 1,300 feet long. It has been completely mapped by lasers, and you are immediately aware of its beauty. There are also animal bones on the ground and stalagmites that slowly drip water on the shimmering white floor, which sparkles under the reflection of light.

Equally exciting, Herzog has made his movie in 3-D, and it works brilliantly. The director has joked that he decided to use portable 3-D cameras to save the technology from what has become rampant overuse.

Give Herzog full credit, he's right. He makes you realize the true possibilities of using 3-D as a form of expression, not as a way to toss things at an audience. The movie will only be shown in 3-D, and it's extraordinary how the curves of the cave are made exciting and quite beautiful by the format.

"Cave Of Forgotten Dreams" is a testament to human nature and the power of creativity. With this picture, Herzog elevates the art of filmmaking. It's perfect for the entire family.

Meanwhile, back in the land of crass commercialism (Hollywood, USA), the boobs are mucking about in a mire of their own making.

"The Hangover," from 2009, is a comic motion picture that is about bad things happening to ordinary people. It was a huge hit, and deservedly so. It kept its surprises secret until you saw the picture.

Jump ahead two years, a very brief time span in Hollywood, and there's now a sequel. It's called, rather unoriginally, "The Hangover Part II."

That's not the only thing that's unoriginal. The movie is a carbon copy of the first edition, although the setting is different: Bangkok, Thailand, instead of Las Vegas, Nevada.

The same characters face the same problems. A group of male friends have a wedding to go to, wake up in an unfamiliar place after a night of drinking, only to discover that they are trapped in a nightmare scenario that must be solved by backtracking through their debauchery.

The situation is too familiar. Snatches of dialogue are paraphrased and repeated from "The Hangover." The only unique element is that instead of a baby, there's a chain-smoking Capuchin monkey. I did find the monkey funny, but the extensive use of the little creature borders on overkill.

Along with Zach Galifianakis' stay-at-home son, Bradley Cooper's party animal teacher, and Ed Helmss dentist (he's the one getting married), the effeminate underworld guru Mr. Chow is also back, played with his usual annoying screech by Ken Jeong. There's also a severed finger and a car chase with which to contend.

Director Todd Phillips and his screenwriters, Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, haven't so much created a movie as they've Xeroxed one.

The picture is male-centric, but that doesn't excuse the abuse of the female characters, all of whom who are either nags or strippers. The thematic ugliness in "The Hangover Part II" is relentless. The movie is more crude and vulgar than the original, has an uglier edge (not that this makes it edgy), and resorts to violence that hammers against the comedy.

In order to titillate moviegoers, Phillips and his team pander to the pigsty. That forbidden-in-America, English-language word for a woman is used, but it was also used in "Bridesmaids." I guess that taboo is now broken. Phillips resorts to stealing from "The Crying Game" for a desperate way to exit the mess he's made. Bangkok should sue.

Morgan Spurlock is a comfortable iconoclast. He's a media provocateur who has been compared to Michael Moore. However, whereas Moore makes enemies, everyone seems to like Spurlock, except perhaps the folks who own McDonald's fast food joints, which he mocked in his excellent "Super Size Me." Spurlock's new documentary is "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold," and it's a breezy and entertaining look at product placement in motion pictures. The thrust of the film is that Spurlock is trying to get companies to pay for the privilege of having their products shown in a feature he's making about placing products in movies.

The film is fun, you'll learn a few things, and you should probably walk away recognizing that everything has a price, even the possibility of advertising on the skin on your body.

"Incendies" is an interesting, beautifully shot French-Canadian work that was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at this year's Oscars. In it, a twin brother and sister return to a wartorn area of the Middle East from Montreal, bringing letters from their deceased mother to the father they never knew and a brother they didn't know they had.

The movie is about religious prejudice and the reality that people may hate you because you were born into a faith different from theirs.

Screenwriter-director Denis Villeneuve superbly prepares you for an ending that will shock.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com May 31, 2011